Saturday, June 19, 2010

Vive la Resistance!

Perhaps it was reading the spy novel Assignment in Brittany, perhaps it was the visit to the Museum of the Breton Resistance, perhaps it's thinking about the moment of high rhetoric and historical significance, perhaps it's because when you see a sign that says "Light and Sound Show" in France you feel compelled to go - whatever the reasons, I had to be at the Invalides tonight for the 70th anniversary commemoration of the call De Gaulle made to the French from London via the BBC to resist, resist, resist. It was my great and good fortune (and fun) to be joined by Amira and Tristan, whom you see here rising to the occasion with aplomb and panache.

And well they might! For now that I look at the text of the Appel, it's really very interesting. It doesn't bring forth all of the high principles of France that are worth fighting for, instead it stresses France's connection with other countries that are still fighting. Here's the full text, but let me just translate one paragraph:

Because France is not alone! She is not alone! She is not alone! She has a vast Empire behind her. She can join forces with the British Empire which holds the sea and continuing to fight. She can, like England, use the immense industrial force of the United States without limit.

It is absolutely fascinating to me that he doesn't call for the preservation of a French way of life, or "liberté, égalité, fraternité" or some such shared value system. Instead, this call to connect France with other European countries - and with its Empire. Let's use our Empire - we've never put it to good use before (actually, that's not true - there's the whole matter of using Empire troops there. Perhaps it's because I've been reading all of these fictional letters back and forth between the Grand Turc Mahumetes and various and sundry mythics (Amazons) and real (Venitiens) in which the assieged rulers always talk about freedom (I know, that surprised me, too) and protecting their homeland, being the exact opposite of tyranny. But how incredible that must have been for his audience, who I bet really did feel alone, very cut-off from the rest of the world - how incredible to hear this strong reassuring voice saying "We are not alone!" And indeed, the French answered the call - the Breton did so in droves.

I had a vision of what things might look like from the very involved website dedicated to this day (I mean, wow, look at those events), but truth be told, the gates were closed and so only invited guests and press were allowed inside the entrance; and then it was a kind of interminable series of Sousa songs and the occasional curve ball (theme from Bridge over River Kwai comes to mind). The sound didn't carry that far, so things looked more like this:

Which is still really lovely, but not the big De Gaulle face, and his voice ringing over the Esplanade. Plus it was cold and we were talking about the world and its universe and so we left after a while and didn't stick around to see which "personalité française" was going to do De Gaulle's voice (the sound system was very quiet anyway).

But hey, look kids - it's me holding up the Eiffel Tower all by myself!

I want to write a lot more - about the Resistance, about modern technology like the radio in wartime, about nations being isolated and being joined, about what it takes to mobilize people who are not in an army, about why WWI and the tremendous losses the French incurred there helps us understand the armistice with Hitler much better, about the valiant human spirits who went out in a blaze of glory, about the innocents who got caught up in the difficult vengeance games, about the complications in Brittany (fervent Resistance fighters, and fiercely nationalists Bretons were oft pitted against each other), about the controversy surrounding the Resistance (could the Allies have won without the Resistance? I'm going to say no, but there are those who consider the Resistance more symbolic than real, about the spirit of the Resistance and its long lasting inspiration. But it is once again super late, and so these musings must remain in my head. We turned back one last time and plunged into the Métro to re-emerge at Mabillon and have a drink in a very nice and warm café - a clean, well-lighted place if there ever was one.

And so it's 70 years later and there were people from all over the world at the Invalides and there is peace in Paris France, which still stands in its entierity, because of the complexity of Resistance and Armisitce mingling in a nation's history.

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